Bulgaria Adoption Story: The Winstone Family


Hi y’all! We are the Winstone family: Tyler, Laura, and our children are Amos, 6, Eden (almost 5), and Esther (4). We’ve been married 9 years in May. Tyler works in the oil field, and I (Laura) stay-at-home, while working part time for my family’s accounting business. We also have a ranch as a family operation. We adopted from Bulgaria with MLJ Adoptions!

When I (Laura) was 13, I had a strong conviction from God that adoption would be a part of my life. In fact, I was in a school classroom when I knew that some day I would adopt. My mom says she remembers that day, thinking that I was young, yet having no doubt that someday that is what I would do. Through all these years, I have never doubted that conviction. When Tyler and I started to date, in fact our first date, I told Tyler I would not date anyone that was opposed to adoption. Thankfully, Tyler wasn’t scared off, and he expressed his willingness to adopt some day as well. When you are young, you carefully craft and plan what your life will look like, what kind of family you’ll have, how many kids you’ll have. As you mature, you realize most of those plans get thrown out the window. Sometimes, God allows pain or a trial to alter your plan. You think, when that happens, that it hurts and how can any good possibly come from this pain? Yet, what God has shown us through adoption, that He is a potter full of compassion and grace for His clay. Our vision of what our family would be was graciously altered, and as I look back at the hurt, I see so much kindness flowing from our Father’s hands.

Tyler and I met on a mission trip to Romania, and since, I have continued to go back. We love our Romanian family, and we were able to walk alongside Romanians and the Roma. The Roma people have brought so much joy to our lives, and we had hoped to adopt from Romania (closed to US adoptions unless Romanian descent). As we searched and searched, we came upon a website. We decided to look into Africa, but when I clicked on other countries and programs, we clicked on Bulgaria. I started to read, and it said that a large percentage of the orphans in Bulgaria were Roma. Immediately, I started crying, called Tyler, and he said, “This is the Lord’s doing. We know where we are adopting from now.”

I had spent years, before I was married and then when I was married, researching programs, agencies, and websites. Some other international adoption families cautioned us to choose our agency wisely, to do our homework, to ask hard questions. We found MLJ online. The clear and concise vision and programs, requirements, fee schedules, contacts were all a part of our decision. Also, when we had our first phone meeting, we asked many questions. They were all answered with kindness and patience (we were so naïve). We knew after that initial meeting that MLJ was right for our family.

We were well informed of the wait, yet it was in the waiting that we had to process fears, frustrations, tons of paperwork, and expectations. What surprised us was how the wait would shape us, how it would grow us, and how important that time spent in waiting is for when we brought our child home. Also, after our first trip, it was evident that our daughter had suffered. It made the wait between trips excruciating. All we could do was pray that God would sustain her and comfort her in a way only He can. That surprise was the hardest.

Since we’ve been overseas before, we were eager to see the country, experience what our daughter’s country and people were like. Our Vesta worker (MLJ’s in-country staff) on the first trip became a lifelong friend; we call him our family. Without his guidance, wisdom, help, and ability to make us laugh, those days would have been so much harder. We had to drive quite a distance to see our daughter, and it gave us the opportunity to see the vast landscape of Bulgaria. We got to take our daughter to the park every day, take a nap together, eat together at a restaurant, and walk around with her. We laughed a lot with Esther and Tyler and I at each other. We often laugh when facing difficult days. On our pickup trip, we laughed a lot at what we did not know, what all we had to learn. In fact, we attempted to give our daughter a bath the first night in our apartment. She freaked out, and Tyler ended up looking like a soaked cat. I’ll never forget the look of “what the heck are y’all trying to do to me?!” from Esther, or Tyler’s look of “what the heck are you doing to me Esther?!” Thankfully, our plane ride wasn’t bad. We all were exhausted. I knew to pack lots of extra diapers and clothes (blowouts-shewee!). She had a major blowout in line with 1000’s of other people in the US immigrant line: that was a blast.

Esther has been home for 2 years now. The first 6 months were some of the most difficult we have ever faced. She rocked so hard that she tore through 2 pack-n-plays. She could not self-regulate with food or drink. Her fine and gross motor skills were delayed. She came to us much like an infant, yet she looked like a toddler. She could not talk, and she could not walk. She hopped on her knees. She thought everyone was Momma, and if a stranger wanted to hold her, she would have willingly gone and kissed the stranger in the process. Her cause and effect reasoning were nonexistent as well. All of that is a simplified list. After all, her growth has taken one day at a time, and sometimes, one minute at a time. Two years later, I’m currently watching her play with our Goldendoodle, Watson. She is telling him, “Watsy, good boy,” while she giggles with delight, as her brother and sister join her. Her language has grown leaps and bounds. She no longer self-soothes, and she is quite attached. She still loves all people, but she is learning the meaning of strangers, growing wary of them. She now can self-regulate on food, but drink is still a work in progress. She runs. She jumps. She laughs. She cries a real cry, unless she’s being a dramatic 4-year-old girl. She laughs when tickled. She sings. She dances. She understands and talks. Our daughter has climbed mountains most wouldn’t even dare to climb. She has overcome obstacles after obstacles. My daughter is a joyfully, fierce, little girl. The Lord is certainly gracious.

Everyone loves our sweet Esther. Everyone had expectations of what she would be like, and we all had to adjust those once she was home. Our families have had to learn, as we have. As they have learned more on a child with a trauma background, their grace has continued to overflow for us, as parents and their love for Esther has continued to deepen. Our family had prayed for her from the beginning of the process. When we received our referral of Esther, my folks were in my office as we wept and rejoiced in one less orphan.

Our faith has been what has kept us anchored, when our world seemed unsteady. God has shown us so much grace when had none to give ourselves. Our family. Our family has prayed, financially supported, babysat, been a shoulder to cry on, ear to listen and forgiving heart. They have supported whatever rules we set and champion Esther without disrespecting us as parents. Our friends that are family has been so vital throughout this entire process and for the rest of our lives. From all over the globe, our friends have prayed and participated in bringing home our daughter.

One thing God gave us during this time were other families in this process, at the same time, experiencing the same and different thing. I call them my tribe. We do not live close by, but we are constantly in contact. We have weathered some of the darkest moments to the skies of joy. We have laughed together, encouraged, spoken truth, reminded, and simply walked through life together. They have been a lifeline for me. Nothing is out of bounds to discuss. These women were precious gifts of kindness from God: they have eternally impacted my life, as well as my family’s. From each category, the biggest support from each of them is grace. We had to learn so much so quickly. We were naïve in how to raise a child with trauma background. We questioned every decision we made and how it would impact Esther. I criticized my mothering ability. Yet, the grace each of them offered me and my family was a salve on my aching heart.

Other women and men, families, who have gone through the “trenches.” We love listening to a podcast called “The Honestly Adoption Podcast.” I have read many books and not all adoption related. Our church has been a great ally and resource as well.

There will be a million reasons and excuses and justifications to not adopt internationally, but there will always be one reason you should. There is a child somewhere in an orphanage or foster home who is longing for the love and nurture of a home. Your home, your hands, your heart. They are waiting. You have the ability to change their status. You have the ability to live what you believe. You have the opportunity to go to a child in the trenches, grab his or her hand, and say Momma/Daddy are with you. For one child, they need a you. And when you bring your child home, you will see that you always needed a her/him.

It may seem daunting. It may seem like you are not equipped for this type of road. My sweet friends, you are more than equipped. You have a heart full of love and nurture. You have a home full of warmth and stability. You have hand that can hold and hug. God will sustain you. He will carry you, as He always has. I cannot look at life the same now as Esther is home. God has used her in the most profound way to shape me. She is a vessel of grace. There were days that I would cry over the difficulty, over the wounds that she has, and my sweet daughter would come up to me and say, “Mommy, you okay?” Then, she would plant a movie star kiss on my cheek. She is a light of life in our family. She is a ray of joy and hope. She is the constant reminder of the goodness of the gospel in my own life. I pray that your heart is encouraged, your conviction strengthened, and you and your family decide for a child or 2 or 3, that they are one less orphan.

Caitlin Snyder works as the Director of Marketing and Outreach for MLJ Adoptions. Working in international adoption has given Caitlin the unique opportunity to pursue both a passion to advocate on behalf of vulnerable people and a profession at the same time.

Caitlin Snyder works as the Director of Marketing and Outreach for MLJ Adoptions. Working in international adoption has given Caitlin the unique opportunity to pursue both a passion to advocate on behalf of vulnerable people and a profession at the same time.